The Padmanabhaswamy temple is a Hindu temple located in Thiruvananthapuram, the state capital of Kerala, India. The name of the city of Thiruvananthapuram in Malayalam translates to "The City of Lord Ananta", (City of the Divine Serpent) referring to the deity of the Padmanabhaswamy temple. The temple is built in an intricate fusion of the Chera style and the Dravidian style of architecture, featuring high walls, and a 16th-century gopura. While the Ananthapura temple in Kumbla is considered the original seat of the deity ("Moolasthanam"), architecturally to some extent, the temple is a replica of the Adikesava Perumal temple in Thiruvattar.
The principal deity Padmanabhaswamy (Vishnu) is enshrined in the "Anantha Shayana" posture, the eternal yogic sleep on the serpent Adi Shesha. Padmanabhaswamy is the tutelary deity of the royal family of Travancore. The titular Maharaja of Travancore, Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma, is the trustee of the temple.
Several extant Hindu Texts, like the Vishnu Purana, Brahma Purana, Matsya Purana, Varaha Purana, Skanda Purana, Padma Purana, Vayu Purana, Bhagavata Purana and the Mahabharata mention this shrine. The Temple has been referred to in the (only recorded) Sangam period of literature between 500 BCE and 300 CE several times. Many conventional historians and scholars are of the opinion that one of the names that the Temple had, "The Golden Temple", literally was in cognizance of the fact that the Temple was already unimaginably wealthy by that point. Many extant pieces of Sangam Tamil literature and poetry, and later works of the 9th century of Tamil poet-saints like Nammalwar, refer to the temple and the city as having walls of pure gold. At some places, both the temple and the entire city are often eulogised as being made of gold, and the temple as heaven.
The temple is one of the 108 principal Divya Desams ("Holy Abodes") in Vaishnavism and is glorified in the Divya Prabandha. The Divya Prabandha glorifies this shrine as being among the 13 Divya Desam in Malai Nadu (corresponding to present-day Kerala with Kanyakumari District). The 8th century Tamil poet Alvar Nammalvar sang the glories of Padmanabha. The Ananthapuram temple in Kasaragod is believed to be the original seat of Padmanabhaswamy ("Moolasthanam").
It is believed that Parasurama purified and venerated the idol of Sree Padmanabhaswamy in Dvapara Yuga. Parasurama entrusted 'Kshethra karyam' (Administration of the Temple) with seven Potti families – Koopakkara Potti, Vanchiyoor Athiyara Potti, Kollur Athiyara Potti, Muttavila Potti, Karuva Potti, Neythasseri Potti and Sreekaryathu Potti. King Adithya Vikrama of Vanchi (Venad) was directed by Parasurama to do 'Paripalanam' (Protection) of the Temple. Parasurama gave the Tantram of the Temple to Tharananallur Namboothiripad. This legend is narrated in detail in 'Kerala Mahathmyam' which forms part of 'Brahmanda Puranam'.
Another version regarding the consecration of the Main Idol of the Temple relates to the legendary sage Vilvamangalathu Swamiyar. Swamiyar, who resided near Ananthapuram Temple in Kasaragod District, prayed to Lord Vishnu for his darshan or "auspicious sight". The Lord is believed to have come in the guise of a little boy who was mischievous. The boy defiled the Idol which was kept for Puja. The sage became enraged at this and chased away the boy who disappeared before him. Realizing the boy was no ordinary mortal, the sage wept for forgiveness and asked for another darshan as a sign. He heard a voice say "If you want to see me come to the Anathavana (the unending forest or ananthakadu). After a long search, when he was walking on the banks of Laccadive Sea, he heard a pulaya lady warning her child that she would throw him in Ananthankadu. The moment the Swami heard the word Ananthankadu he was delighted. He proceeded to Ananthankadu based on the directions of the lady of whom he enquired. The Sage reached Ananthankadu searching for the boy. There he saw the boy merging into an Iluppa tree (Indian Butter Tree). The tree fell down and became Anantha Sayana Moorti (Vishnu reclining on the celestial snake Anantha). But the edifice that the Lord assumed was of an extraordinarily large size, with His head at Thiruvattar near Thuckalay Tamil Nadu, Body or Udal at Thiruvananthapuram, and lotus-feet at Thrippadapuram near Kulathoor and Technopark (Thrippappur), making him some eight miles in length. The Sage requested the Lord to shrink to a smaller proportion that would be thrice the length of his staff. Immediately the Lord shrank to the form of the Idol that is seen at present in the Temple. But even then many Iluppa trees obstructed a complete vision of the Lord. The Sage saw the Lord in three parts – thirumukham, thiruvudal and thrippadam. Swami prayed to Padmanabha to be forgiven. The Swami offered Rice Kanji and Uppumanga (salted mango pieces) in a coconut shell to the Perumal which he obtained from the pulaya woman. The spot where the Sage had darsan of the Lord belonged to Koopakkara Potti and Karuva Potti. With the assistance of the reigning King and some Brahmin households a Temple was constructed. The Ananthankadu Nagaraja Temple still exists to the north west of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple. The Samadhi (final resting place) of the Swamiyar exists to the west of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple. A Krishna Temple was built over the Samadhi. This Temple, known as Vilvamangalam Sri Krishna Swami Temple, belongs to Thrissur Naduvil Madhom.
Mukilan, a Muslim marauder, invaded vast chunks of Venad in 1680 AD. He destroyed Budhapuram Bhaktadasa Perumal Temple owned by Neythasseri Potti. Mukilan had plans to plunder the vaults of Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple and destroy it. But he was dissuaded from doing so by local Pathans loyal to the Royals of Venad. Padmanabhan Thampi, arch rival of Anizhom Thirunal Marthanda Varma, marched to Thiruvananthapuram with his forces and tried to loot the vaults of the Temple. Thampi stayed at Sri Varaham and sent his mercenaries to Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. It is said that divine serpents materialised in hundreds and scared away Thampi's men. Emboldened by this heavenly intervention, Pallichal Pillai and local people opposed Padmanabhan Thampi and ensured that the mercenaries did not proceed with the misadventure.
Travancore royal family
In the first half of the 18th century, in line with matrilineal customs, Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma, succeeded his uncle Rama Varma as king at the age of 23. He successfully suppressed the 700-year-old stranglehold of the Ettuveetil Pillamar ("Lords of the Eight Houses") and his cousins following the discovery of conspiracies which the lords were involved in against the royal house of Travancore (There are various legends and disputes about these mostly apocryphal stories but overall he took control and centralised the rule). The last major renovation of the Padmanabhaswamy temple commenced immediately after Anizham Thirunal's accession to the musnud and the idol was reconsecrated in 906 ME (1731 CE). On 17 January 1750, Anizham Thirunal surrendered the kingdom of Travancore to Padmanabhaswamy, the deity at the temple, and pledged that he and his descendants would be vassals or agents of the deity who would serve the kingdom as Padmanabha Dasa. Since then, the name of every Travancore king was preceded by the title Sree Padmanabha Dasa; the female members of the royal family were called Sree Padmanabha Sevinis. The donation of the king to Padmanabhaswamy was known as Thrippadi-danam. The final wishes of Anizham Thirunal on his passing at the age of 53 clearly delineated the historical relationship between the Maharaja and the temple: "That no deviation whatsoever should be made in regard to the dedication of the kingdom to Padmanabhaswamy and that all future territorial acquisitions should be made over to the Devaswom."
In the Garbhagriha, Padmanabha reclines on the serpent Anantha or Adi Sesha. The serpent has five hoods facing inwards, signifying contemplation. The Lord's right hand is placed over a Shiva lingam. Sridevi-Lakshmi, the Goddess of Prosperity and Bhudevi the Goddess of Earth, two consorts of Vishnu are by his side. Brahma emerges on a lotus, which emanates from the navel of the Lord. The deity is made from 12,008 saligramams. These saligrams are from the banks of the Gandaki River in Nepal, and to commemorate this certain rituals used to be performed at the Pashupatinath Temple. The deity of Padmanabha is covered with, "Katusarkara yogam", a special ayurvedic mix, which forms a plaster that keeps the deity clean. The daily worship is with flowers and for the abhishekam, special deities are used.
The platforms in front of the vimanam and where the deity rests are both carved out of a single massive stone and hence called "Ottakkal-mandapam". On the orders of Marthanda Varma (1706–58), the Ottakkal-mandapam was cut out of a rock at Thirumala, about 4 miles (6.4 km) north of the temple. It measured 20 square feet (1.9 m2; 190 dm2; 19,000 cm2) in area by 2.5 feet (30 in; 7.6 dm; 76 cm) thick and was placed in front of the deity in the month of Edavom 906 M.E. (1731 CE). At the same time, Marthanda Varma also brought 12,000 shaligrams, aniconic representations of Vishnu, from the Gandaki River, north of Benares (now known as Varanasi) to the temple. These were used in the reconsecration of the Padmanabha.
In order to perform darshan and puja, one has to ascend to the mandapam. The Deity is visible through three doors – the visage of the reclining Lord and Siva Linga underneath the hand is seen through the first door; Sridevi and Bhrigu Muni in Katusarkara, Brahma seated on a lotus emanating from the Lord's navel, hence the name, "Padmanabha", gold abhisheka moorthies of Lord Padmanabha, Sridevi and Bhudevi, and silver utsava moorthi of Padmanabha through the second door; the Lord's feet, and Bhudevi and Markandeya Muni in Katusarkara through the third door. The idols of two goddesses holding chamaram, Garuda, Narada, Tumburu, the divine forms of the six weapons of Lord Vishnu, Surya, Chandra, Saptarshi (Seven Sages), Madhu, and Kaitabha are also there in the Sanctum. Only the King of Travancore may perform sashtanga namaskaram, or prostrate on the "Ottakkal Mandapam". It is traditionally held that anybody who prostrates on the mandapam has surrendered all that he possesses to the Deity. Since the ruler has already done that, he is permitted to prostrate on this mandapam.
Inside the Temple, there are two other important shrines, Thekkedom and Thiruvambadi, for the Deities, Ugra Narasimha and Krishna Swami respectively.
Centuries back, several families of Vrishni Kshatriyas travelled to the south carrying with them idols of Lord Balarama and Lord Krishna. When they reached the hallowed land of Sree Padmanabha they gave the idol of Balarama, also known as Bhaktadasa, to Neythasseri Potti. Neythasseri Potti built a Temple at Budhapuram in the present day Kanyakumari District and had this idol installed there. The Vrishnis gifted the idol of Krishna to Maharaja Udaya Marthanda Varma of Venad. The Maharaja constructed a separate shrine, known as Thiruvambadi, in the premises of Padmanabhaswamy Temple for this idol. The Thiruvambadi shrine enjoys an independent status. Thiruvambadi has its own namaskara mandapam, bali stones and flagmast. The Lord of Thiruvambadi is Parthasarathi, the Divine Charioteer of Arjuna. The two-armed granite idol, with one hand holding the whip and the other resting on the left thigh holding the conch close to it, is in standing posture. On Ekadasi days, the Lord is dressed and decorated as Mohini. The Vrishnies who came to Venad and settled there are known as Krishnan vakakkar as they belong to the lineage of Lord Krishna.
There are also shrines for Rama accompanied by Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman, Vishwaksena (the Nirmalyadhari of Vishnu and Remover of Obstacles), Vyasa, Ganapati, Sasta, and Kshetrapala (who guards the temple). Grand idols of Garuda and Hanuman stand with folded hands in the Valiya balikkal area. The thevara idols of Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma and Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma are housed in the south east part of the Temple.
The foundation of the present gopuram was laid in 1566. The temple has a 100-foot (30 m), 7-tier gopuram made in the Pandyan style. The temple stands by the side of a tank, named Padma Theertham (meaning the lotus spring). The temple has a corridor with 365 and one-quarter sculptured granite-stone pillars with elaborate carvings which stands out to be an ultimate testimonial for the Vishwakarma sthapathis in sculpting this architectural masterpiece. This corridor extends from the eastern side into the sanctum sanctorum. An 80-foot (24 m) flagstaff stands in front of the main entry from the prakaram(closed precincts of a temple). The ground floor under the gopuram (main entrance in the eastern side) is known as the 'Nataka Sala' where the famous temple art Kathakali was staged in the night during the ten-day uthsavam (festival) conducted twice a year, during the Malayalam months of Meenam and Thulam.
Festivals and rites
There are many festivals associated with this temple. The major festivals are bi-annual. The Alpashy festival which is in October/November and the Panguni festival which is in Tamil month Panguni, March/April, lasts for 10 days each. On the ninth day the Maharajah of Travancore, in his capacity as Thrippappoor Mooppan, escorts the deities to the vettakkalam for Pallivetta. Centuries back, the Pallivetta procession was said to pass through Kaithamukku, Kuthiravattom (Kunnumpuram), Pazhaya Sreekanteswaram and Putharikkandam. The festivals culminate with the Aarat (holy bath) procession to the Shankumugham Beach. The word Aarat refers to the purificatory immersion of the deities of the temple in sea. This event takes place in the evening. The Maharajah of Travancore escorts the Aarat procession on foot. The festival idols "Utsava Vigrahas" of Padmanabhaswamy, Narasimha Moorthi and Krishna Swami are given a ritual bath in the sea, after the prescribed pujas. After this ceremony, the idols are taken back to the temple in a procession that is lit by traditional torches, marking the conclusion of the festival.
A major annual festival related to Padmanabhaswamy temple is the Navaratri festival. The idols of Saraswati Amman, Mun Uditha Nangai (Parasakti, who appeared before Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati to help them identify their husbands who had been transformed into infants by the power of chastity of Anasuya) and Kumara Swami (Murugan) are brought to the Kuthira malika palace in front of Padmanabhaswamy temple as a procession. This festival lasts for 9 days. The famous Swathi music festival is held every year during this festival.
The biggest festival in this temple is laksha deepam, which means hundred thousand (or one lakh) lamps. This festival is unique and commences once in 6 years. Prior to this festival, chanting of prayers and recitation of three vedas is done for 56 days (Murajapam). On the last day, hundred thousand oil lamps are lit in and around the temple premises. The next laksha deepam is slated in January 2020.
Temples where 'Swamiyar Pushpanjali' is conducted are claimants to extra sanctity. Sannyasins from Naduvil Madhom and Munchira Madhom do pushpanjali (flower worship) daily to Padmanabha, Narasimha Moorthi and Krishna Swami. Tharananallur Nambuthiripads of Iranjalakkuda are the Tantris of the Temple. The Nambies, altogether four in number, are the Chief Priests of the Temple. Two Nambies – Periya Nambi and Panchagavyathu Nambi – are allotted to Padmanabha and one Nambi each to Narasimha Moorthi and Krishna Swami. The Nambies hail from either side of the Chandragiri River.
In line with the Temple Entry Proclamation, only those who profess the Hindu faith are permitted entry to the temple and devotees have to strictly follow the dress code. Men wear "vesti" with "angavastram" (the South Indian version of dhoti and shawl both of which are plain white in color) and woman wear sari.